Tony Martin campaigner is a convicted fraudster

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The Independent Online

The man running the charity that helped free Tony Martin from jail admitted last night that he had a fraud conviction.

Peter Sainsbury, the general secretary of the POW Trust (People's Opportunity to Work), admitted he had been jailed for five years in 1990 for masterminding a £3m fraud and said the revelation would do damage to the charity's future donation prospects.

Mr Sainsbury also said the trust's legal consultant, Iain MacMaster, was jailed for eight years in 1998 for laundering drug money and trafficking cannabis. "Both the convictions are under appeal as it happens," he told The Independent on Sunday. Asked what he would say to people who learned of his conviction, Mr Sainsbury said: "Well, it's public knowledge and we try to help the socially excluded and people who have problems and we are better able to help these people having been through the process ourselves."

The POW Trust counts among its patrons Conservative MP Henry Bellingham and Labour MP Austin Mitchell. Mr Bellingham was reported to be reconsidering his support for the organisation. People sympathetic to Mr Martin sent donations to the trust to help fund a legal battle for his freedom. Mr Sainsbury has claimed in the past that his organisation gave £100,000 to Mr Martin's legal fight. The POW Trust found Mr Martin a new solicitor before he had his murder conviction reduced to manslaughter on appeal and was released on parole in July.

The fraud for which Mr Sainsbury was jailed involved investors paying for industrial generators. He was banned from operating as a director for 10 years but was released two years into the sentence and immediately set up the POW Trust. Last night, he said he had never been a director of the organisation. Mr Sainsbury also said he was convicted of currency offences in Lebanon but the sentence was later quashed.

Mr Sainsbury denied allegations in The Sunday Telegraph that the POW Trust had received a donation in North Korean currency. The newspaper reported it was up to £5m in value. "Total garbage. Wons are totally valueless. Who is going to buy North Korean wons?" he said. He said the allegations were being made by a disgruntled former POW person.

A Charity Commission spokesman told The Sunday Telegraph that an initial complaint about the POW was received in 2002 and an inquiry begun. "We will publish a public report when the investigation is complete. Meanwhile the POW Trust is aware of the inquiry," he said. Mr Sainsbury said he had not been informed of any Charity Commission investigation.

Mr Sainsbury has had a much-publicised falling out recently with Mr Martin over Mr Martin's refusal to give some of the media and fund-raising money he has received to the POW Trust.